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Weel happit up <em>Picture: joanna8555</em>

Weel happit up Picture: joanna8555

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Much of November has been extraordinarily mild, but doubtless this will change and the real winter will be upon us before you can say Jack Frost. Then it will be time to make sure that we are weel happit up. Should you be unfamiliar with this phrase, it is the Scots equivalent of English “well wrapped up”, but more so.

Whenever I think of cold, snowy winter days, this expression comes back to me because I spent my early childhood winter days in a weel happit up state. It was basically the layered look, but long before this fashionable expression was coined and it certainly lacked the elegance that it suggests.

The basis of the weel happit up look was a vest or semmit or even, for girls, a liberty bodice. You will have to be pretty old to have worn one of these, because they ceased to be popular around the 1950s. A liberty bodice was a close-fitting sleeveless undergarment for the upper body made of thick soft cotton. It took its name from the fact that it was considerably less restrictive than its predecessor, the corset. That was before my time.

Over the vest, semmit or liberty bodice went several sweaters, usually wool and often scratchy, followed by jacket and coat. Then the accessories were piled on, scarf, hat and gloves, the gloves often being replaced on female hands by mittens, called pawkies in Scots.

And there you have it – the weel happit up look. It was intended to keep you warm and cosy on freezing days, but it went further. It often made the wearer too hot and consequently sweaty, especially if he or she was hurrying to catch the school bus.

The word happit comes from the verb to hap, meaning to cover, often with the purpose of sheltering or concealing something. This has been in use in Scots since the 14th century and is derived from Middle English.

The verb hap can be used with reference to a person, as when you hap an invalid up in a blanket or hap a child up in bed. It can also be used with reference to covering something such as potatoes or plants with earth or straw to protect them from the cold and wet.

Other uses include covering a corpse with earth in the grave and making up a fire so that it will continue to burn slowly for a while. Figuratively, it can be used of mist covering the tops of mountains or people happing something away that they might have need of later.

Hap can also be a noun meaning a covering of some kind which provides protection against the weather. More specifically, it is used to refer to a shawl, plaid or outer garment, or to a blanket or quilt

The weel happit up look is not nearly as common among children as it once was. Well, many of them don’t really need to be wrapped in several layers nowadays, do they? After all, they only have to take a few steps from their front door to the vehicle that will whisk them away on the school run and fetch them back again. They see little of the great outdoors.

The real reason, however, that the weel happit look is not popular among the young is that it is just not cool. Well, by very definition, you wouldn’t expect it to be cool in terms of temperature – but it is not cool in terms of image, and image is everything these days. Many young people would not be seen dead in the weel happit up look, preferring to wear skimpy T-shirts and show off bare midriffs even in the coldest of winter days. It is a wonder that more of them do not suffer from hypothermia. At least the weel happit up look prevents that.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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Coire Lagan from Glen Brittle <em>Picture: Gordon Hatton</em>

Coire Lagan from Glen Brittle Picture: Gordon Hatton

It has been a grim week on the Scottish hills, with two fatalities in the space of just a couple of days. First, on Sunday (29 May), a 22-year-old French student, whose name has yet to be released, died on Ben Nevis after becoming ill at about 850 metres, roughly 300m above the halfway lochan and still 500m below the summit.

The man’s walking partner alerted rescue services at about 7:30pm – but despite the rapid arrival of Lochaber mountain rescue team (MRT), RAF Kinloss MRT and the Stornoway coastguard helicopter, the man was severely hypothermic and died later that evening at Belford Hospital in Fort William.

While it might be seen as late spring, even early summer, at lower levels, it has been an unusually cold and windy May and conditions on the hill have been difficult. “It’s pretty much full-on winter up on the Ben [Nevis] just now,” said Lochaber MRT leader John Stevenson next day. “It’s pouring with rain and snow is falling on the summit. There is snow all year round on Ben Nevis – even if it’s a sunny day down at the bottom. It’s important that people intending to walk up the mountain check the weather, be fully prepared with the right clothing, and know when to turn back.”

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, Tessa Cousins – a South African aged 56 – was killed by rockfall on Skye while belaying her climbing partner on the third pitch of Cioch Direct – a classic four-pitch Severe route on the huge Sron na Ciche face above Coire Lagan. The lead climber dislodged a section of rock while placing protection. He himself fell around 25m and sustained injuries including a broken leg, while an adjacent pair of climbers were also hit, one (Carole Standing) sustaining chest and spinal injuries, the other a broken shoulder and a damaged hand.

A third pair of climbers was also hit but without serious injury. The man from the second pair was able to walk down to Glen Brittle to summon help from Skye MRT, assisted by coastguard and RAF helicopters – an effort later commended by Gerry Akroyd, the leader of Skye MRT. “He walked off down the hill for help,” Akroyd said. “He must have been some kind of iron man to do that with his injuries.”

Akroyd was also quoted on grough as saying witnesses to the rockfall had described it as “looking like a boulder avalanche”. From her hospital bed in Glasgow, Standing has also added that there “is more loose rock” and care needs to be taken by anyone climbing on the face over the next while.

Commenting on UKClimbing.com on Wednesday evening, experienced Cuillin guide Mike Lates likewise advised climbers to take care with regard to instability in the Cioch area. “Following the tragic accident yesterday,” Lates said, “Skye MRT have warned climbers to be very careful if climbing on the Lower Cioch Buttress routes as debris from the accident was very widespread. My suggestion would be to avoid routes left of Cioch West around to Bastinado for quite some time.

“Some folk will climb these classic lines, so be very wary of anything coming from above as you approach. The boulder field does naturally ‘squeeze’ the easiest line in underneath these routes, so some route choice will be needed after crossing the outflow from the Amphitheatre.”

It should be noted that in both these tragic incidents the parties had suitable kit and clothing for the situation. After the Ben Nevis fatality, John Stevenson of Lochaber MRT said that the French walker and his companion had been “generally well equipped”, while the Skye incident affected experienced climbers on a long-established route. There will always be risk due to fierce weather on the Ben and the potential for rockfall on the Cuillin.

Here is the Cape Times report on the Cuillin incident.

The walker who died on Ben Nevis has been named as Arnaud Alexandre Romain Albagnac.

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